Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that there are more men called John heading up FTSE 100 firms than there are women bosses. Moreover, there are almost three times as many men with the title ‘Sir’ than there are women at senior level. This harsh reality is actually an improvement on the historical gender imbalance. We take a look at the recruitment sector to see the state of play.

According to the Davies Report, which was issued in February 2011, FTSE 100 firms have a voluntary target of 33% of women on the board by 2020 – however, at the current rate of change it is estimated that it will take over 70 years to achieve an equal gender balance in the boardroom. When we look at the recruitment industry, we see that while women make up 56% of senior roles, they hold only 23% of board level positions.

There is clearly a disparity between women at senior level and women on the board at some recruitment companies and the reasons why this situation continues are still not clear. The talent pool of dedicated, enthusiastic and experienced women is patently there but there, are myriad complex reasons why they simply aren’t making it to board level. These include the exclusive nature of all-male boards, who may wish to preserve their old-boys ethos. It could also be the case that after career breaks, of whatever duration, to raise children, women find it difficult to obtain the support they need to continue in high-profile and -pressurised roles.

It is the great misfortune of recruitment companies who do not have gender equality at board level that they miss out on the qualities that a balanced board brings. Research has demonstrated that companies perform better when they employ high calibre people from a diverse mix of backgrounds and perspectives. Competent and worthwhile board members of whichever gender, therefore, offer a blend of skills and experience which can only benefit the company in the long run.

Suggestions to address this imbalance include the introduction of quotas – this option has its detractors who fear the spectre of tokenism. The Davies Report also recommended a 10-point strategy to increase the number of women in the boardroom; these points include self-set targets, disclosure, improved diversity policies and measurable objectives, a review of appointment processes, and a Voluntary Code of Conduct among executive search firms to address best practice around the issue of diversity.

Perhaps the most important issue which needs addressing, however, is the supply of
women into the boardroom, through the higher echelons of organisations. This is something that executive recruitment agencies are taking very seriously. It is only through a transparent and enthusiastic response to the issue of recruiting women at board level, which begins at graduate and junior level, that the playing field will be levelled and the elitism which currently prevails will be swept away.

If the multi-billion pound recruitment industry can one day get it right, surely this will pave the way for other sectors to follow suit?